Raise Up Teachers: Jen Conaway
by Bryon Houlgrave
One little hug can evoke big emotions. So when 10-year-old Fernando Colorado wrapped his long arms around his former first grade teacher, there weren’t many dry eyes in the classroom.
Four years ago, while a first grader in Jen Conaway’s class at Eagle Grove Elementary School, Fernando was struggling with reading and comprehension. He was falling behind, getting lost in a sea of information his brain was having trouble making sense of. Mrs. Conaway was the life raft that came to his rescue.
“Fernando had a really tough kindergarten year,” Katelyn Colorado, Fernando's mom, said. “When he came to first grade, Mrs. Conaway was so focused on making sure that Fernando had the help he needed.”
Mrs. Conaway recognized the signs of a learning disorder and suggested Fernando, now a fifth grader, receive some testing.
Katelyn put her trust in her son’s teacher and brought Fernando to Iowa City to be evaluated.
Fernando was diagnosed with two learning disabilities, including ADHD, and was placed on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to help him with his school work.
“He is on the right path now thanks to Mrs. Conaway,” Katelyn Colorado said, adding that Fernando is on course to get off his IEP.
The unwavering dedication to her students’ education prompted Katelyn to write about Mrs. Conaway when Iowa PBS was looking to spotlight Iowa educators who have made a lasting impact on a student.
“Mrs. Conaway has been the biggest advocate for Fernando and his education,” Katelyn Colorado said. “She went above and beyond to make sure that Fernando got the help that he needed in first grade, and I’m so thankful.”
“She understands me,” Fernando Colorado said.
We sent Iowa PBS educational outreach specialist Abby Brown up to Eagle Grove on Wednesday, March 1, to surprise Mrs. Conaway with the news that the story of her dedication to students had been shared with us.
“We asked all of our viewers to tell us about the teacher in their life that made a big difference, and we heard from Katelyn,” Brown said. “She told us how you really see her kids, and how you serve the kids and how you make everyone so happy, and so we’re here to just raise you up. You’re making a big difference.”
The tears came easy for both parent and teacher as Fernando, who returned to his first grade classroom along with his mother and brother, Antonio, 9, surprised Mrs. Conaway with flowers and a gift bag from Iowa PBS. A large card recognizing Mrs. Conaway as an Iowa PBS featured teacher was hung over the chalkboard for all her students to sign.
Eagle Grove principal Jared Carder was also in the classroom to help recognize Mrs. Conaway.
“She definitely brings a lot of knowledge. And a ton of love to her kids,” Carder said. “We’re very lucky to have you in Eagle Grove.”
After the class all took turns signing their names on the card, they all rushed Mrs. Conaway for a big group hug. It was pretty clear how much her students adored her.
“I’m getting squished,” laughed one student from somewhere inside that hug.
“I’m getting squished too,” Mrs. Conaway said.
Raise Up Teachers is a new campaign intended to honor some of Iowa’s educators for what they do to enrich the lives of their students and community. Tell us the story of the educator or school staff member who has enriched your life as a parent, coworker, community member, etc., and we might feature them in an upcoming story.
“Educators and school staff give of themselves in ways that make a big difference – sometimes all the difference – in a child’s life,” Brown said, adding that sometimes those efforts go unnoticed.
“We wanted to hear those stories, notice those efforts, and raise those teachers up.”
For Mrs. Conaway, the best part of teaching is all about building relationships.
“You’ve got to make those relationships,” Mrs. Conaway said. “When you make those relationships, teaching them is the easy part.”